Illica, Luigi 1857–1919
Illica, Luigi 1857–1919
PERSONAL: Born May 9, 1857, in Castell' Arquato, Italy; died December 16, 1919, in Colombarone, Italy.
CAREER: Sailor, 1875–79; cofounded a radical literary review, 1881; author and playwright, 1882–93; librettist, 1892–1904. Military service: Fought Italian military against the Turks, 1876; World War I, volunteer with Italian forces, 1915–16.
Il vassalo di Szigeth, 1889.
(With Domenico Oliva) Manon Lescaut, music by Giacomo Puccini, 1892.
Cristoforo Colombo, music by Alberto Francheti, 1892.
La Wally, music by Alfredo Catalani, 1892.
Cornetti Schutt, 1893.
(With Giuseppe Giacosa) La Bohème, music by Giacomo Puccini, 1896.
Andrea Chenier, music by Umberto Giordano, 1896.
Iris, music by Pietro Mascagni, 1898.
La fonte di Enschir, music by Franco Alfano, 1898.
La Rosalba, 1899.
(With Giuseppe Giacosa) Tosca, music by Giacomo Puccini, 1900.
Le Maschere, music by Pietro Mascagni, 1901.
Germania, music by Alberto Francheti, 1902.
Siberia, music by Umberto Giordano, 1903.
(With Giuseppe Giacosa) Madama Butterfly, music by Giacomo Puccini, 1904.
Il Principe Zilah, music by Franco Alfano, 1909.
Isabeau, music by Pietro Mascagni, 1911.
(With E. Romgannoli) Giove a Pompeii, music by Alberto Francheti, first produced 1921.
Farfalle, Effetti di Luce (prose sketches and plays; includes plays I Narbonnier-Latour [first produced 1883] and L'Eriditaa di Felis [first produced 1891]; also see below), 1882.
Also author of over thirty other librettos. Numerous sound recordings have been produced featuring Illica's librettos.
SIDELIGHTS: A radical essayist, playwright, and prolific librettist for various composers, Luigi Illica is best known for his collaborations with Giacomo Puccini on some of the most beloved operas in modern history. In 1893, dissatisfied with the libretto for Manon Lescaut, Puccini approached the famed dramatist Giuseppe Giacosa in hopes that he would take on the work. Instead, Giacosa recommended Illica, whose work on La Wally had deeply impressed him, and Puccini agreed to work with the budding librettist. Illica, with Giacosa's guidance, would go on to write the libretto for Puccini's next three operas, La Bohème in 1896, Tosca in 1900, and Madama Butterfly in 1904. Together these accomplishments cemented Illica's reputation, and while Madama Butterfly actually had a disastrous opening, a slightly revised version by Illica and Puccini has since become one of the most frequently performed operas ever written and has inspired a number of movie productions as well. Illica's Andrea Chenier, written for Umberto Giordano, is also a popular staple at opera houses throughout the world. His Cristoforo Colombo, first produced in 1892 for the City of Genoa as a celebration of their native son, enjoyed a revival during the Quincentennial of Columbus's famous voyage.
In their collaborations, Giacosa generally provided the versification and the careful attention to language, while Illica concentrated on dramaturgy, character motivation, and the stagecraft that set a new standard for Italian opera. At the same time, he was instrumental in steering Italian opera away from rigid metre and toward a more irregular and fluid style that better suited the music of the day. He was also known for his use of a roll-call of characters in key scenes, a method he called "kinetic" ensemble, which propelled the action forward even as it introduced important groups, such as the prostitutes in Manon Lescaut. In addition, he was one of the first to write his own plots—for Andrea Chenier and Siberia, among others—rather than relying on established mythology, history, or fiction for his works.
Illica's works ranged across the spectrum, from popular comedy to serious drama, romance to avant-garde, and historical works for which he earned a reputation as a stickler for accuracy. One of his characters in Andrea Chenier, for instance, provides a rather elaborate and entirely accurate commentary on the different styles of bonnets fashionable in the 1790s. He was also known for his fiery temperament and the revolutionary fervor that had first drawn him to Milan to work on a radical publication with his cousin. In fact, Puccini's ultimate decision not to stage Illica's libretto on Marie Antoinette and the era of the French Revolution led to a permanent breach between the two after Giacosa's death.
While best known for his librettos, Illica also enjoyed success as a playwright, especially for his popular comedy in the Milanese dialect, titled L'Eriditaa di Felis.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
International Dictionary of Opera, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.
New Republic, June 3, 1996, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Madama Butterfly, p. 30.
Opera News, February 15, 1992, Eric Myers, "Terra, Terra, Terra: Franchetti's Cristoforo Colombo Lands at Greater Miami Opera," p. 22.
Theatre Journal (Washington, DC), December, 2004, Steve Earnest, review of Madama Butterfly, p. 701.
Columbia Music Department Web site, http://www.columbia.edu/itc/music/ (November 21, 2005), "Luigi Illica."